Los Angeles Guitar Quartet
Classical guitar quartets are not exactly common in this modern world. First it's hard to find four virtuosos who are good enough to play together and stand each other's company. Then we have the economics of the music business. What record company in their right mind would think a guitar quartet would be commercially viable? Fortunately Telarc happens to be just the wacky kind of label who thought this group perfect candidates not only to record, but to put out a hybrid SACD release. Guitar lovers are the beneficiaries of their commercially suicidal largesse.
The Los Angeles Guitar Quartet includes John Dearman, William Kanengiser, Scott Tennant, and Andrew York. On Guitar Heroes the quartet pays homage to a wide assortment of influential guitarists, including Ralph Towner, John McLaughlin, Jim Hendrix, Pat Metheny, Steve Howe, Django Reinhardt, Micheal Hedges, Frank Zappa, and Chet Atkins by interpreting their works. The Quartet's tribute to Jimi Hendrix “Pluck, Strum, and Hammer,” by Bryan Johnson sounds very little like any Hendrix song I've ever heard, but it does have the energy and percussive technique that I associate with Hendrix. This album strives to capture the feeling and fervor of each particular guitar hero's musical style rather than play their works in a classical or traditional way. Much of the music here sounds far more modernistic than anything you'd associate with a classical guitar quartet, and that's exactly the point of the CD. Here you will find new music played in novel ways by classical virtuosos on finger style instruments.
Telarc has a long-standing reputation as purveyors of audiophile quality recordings, beginning before CD's with some of the first classical LPs that utilized digital recording methods. They have continued with pioneering reference quality CDs and were among the first record labels to embrace the SACD medium. SACDs use a continuous stream of digital information, called DSD (direct stream digital), and the sonic result is far more musically natural than standard 16 bit PCM recordings. Hybrid SACDs like this one have both an SACD and CD layer, so they can be played on either standard CD players or newer SACD machines. While the CD layer is stereo only, the SACD layer offers both a stereo and discrete surround sound mix. Depending on your musical tastes you can have the soundstage spread across your front two speakers or distributed so one guitarist is left front, one in the right front, one in the left rear and one in the right rear speaker. You can also use the DSP function in a surround sound processor or receiver to extract ambient rear channel information to simulate a concert environment. Ah, so many choices.
If your sound system can play back SACDs you will immediately notice that the SACD program sounds much better than the standard CD layer. As to whether the two-channel or multi-channel mix prevails depends on your personal tastes and the fidelity of your rear channels. Personally, I still favor the stereo mix, since I don't particularly care for my music to be sneaking up behind me, but the multi-channel mix certainly puts you in the middle of the musical proceedings in a way that is undeniably involving.
Rarely do you find innovative new music presented in such a sonically outstanding package. For musically adventurous guitar lovers with top shelf audio reproduction systems Guitar Heroes will be a rare musical treat on a par with their first great live concert experience. Perhaps Telarc aren't quite as commercially naïve as I thought.